According to Pew Research, a majority share of adult Facebook users in the U.S. have no idea how the platform’s algorithm works — much less how the news feed operates.
Sure, the average person isn’t expected to know the ins and outs of machine learning concepts. That can be excused.
However, it’s a good idea to understand why we see certain things — and how to customize our content for a better experience.
Facebook news feed changes
Remember last year when an idealistic Mark Zuckerberg announced that his vision for Facebook was to shift the platform toward more meaningful interactions?
If you’ve had an account for the past several years, chances are your feed was clogged up with updates from people you don’t really know or care about.
Since that announcement, which was all about friends and family, Facebook has started placing more value on engagement. This means you’re supposed to see the things you care about first.
According to Facebook, the platform evaluates the posts in your feed based on three main signals.
First, they’ll look at who posted it. From there, it prioritizes posts based on how often you interact with that friend, business, or public figure’s content.
The second component is content type. Do you read more articles, “like” more photos, or prefer to watch a muted video? If the algorithm detects a preference for one type of content, they’ll prioritize posts that best match the format you typically engage with.
Interactions are the final ingredient that comes into play. The algorithm is designed to present content that other people enjoyed, assuming you’ll like it, too. So, if a lot of your friends like a particular video, it may show higher in your feed.
Engagement isn’t exactly indicative of quality
According to the social media platform Hootsuite, the latest version of the algorithm prioritizes active interactions (like shares and comments) over passive ones.
A quick look at 2019’s top posts so far reveals a preference for click bait, regardless of whether the posts are factual or not.
Facebook’s goal is to eliminate “engagement baiting” to encourage “authentic” exchanges on the platform. The problem is, people still share garbage content with their network and those posts still get shared.
Can you control your Facebook feed?
When Facebook first came on the scene, you’d see everything in the order it was posted. However, when more people joined, the social networking site began curating everyone’s feeds. It allowed them to present content with more engagement. Basically, it netted them more ad dollars.
Facebook does let you make some changes to what your news feed shows first. There’s a brief walkthrough right there on the site, too.
All you’ll need to is click the down arrow on the top right corner of your Facebook page. From there, select “News Feed Preferences”, and you can choose which posts come up first.
This little trick is ideal for “unfollowing” posts from problematic family members you can’t get away with unfriending. Sorry racist Aunt Sheila, you gotta go.
FB is trying to be transparent about what you see in the feed
They’ve also just recently introduced a new feature called “Why am I seeing this post?” It’s designed to help people understand why they’re seeing a specific update and give you more control over your feed’s contents.
The feature’s commercial sibling, “why am I seeing this ad” also recently got a facelift of its own. Since February 28, Facebook has allowed users to see which brands uploaded their data.
According to TechCrunch, Facebook was going to require advertisers to pledge that they had someone’s phone number or email address for ad targeting.
While that tool came out last June, Facebook did not implement any verification process. Instead, they opted to take businesses at their word.
It’s unlikely that either of these new changes will stop the platform’s data misuse. That’s a staple of the business model, after all.
However, these changes do help those who can manage to inform themselves about the platform’s latest exploits gain a bit more control.